A camera trap working properly.

Enlarge / A camera trap working properly. (credit: Flickr user: NationalZoo)

Over the past two decades automated wildlife cameras—known as camera traps—have proven invaluable in ecological research and conservation management. Their sensitive motion detectors have enabled scientific surveys of rare or shy animals in dense forest and as a consequence have seen broader use around the world.

But camera traps frequently take pictures of people as well as wildlife. This has important implications for privacy and human rights and may ultimately undermine conservation goals.

We conducted a survey of researchers who had deployed camera traps in ecological or conservation projects. More than 90 percent of the 235 respondents said that their cameras had taken images of people as well as wildlife.

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